Cardinals defense aims to hold Vikings RB Dalvin Cook in check this time
Oct 28, 2022, 7:34 PM | Updated: 7:53 pm
(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
TEMPE — Gap integrity was a key phrase used to criticize the Arizona Cardinals’ run defense last season, which was perhaps not exploited by one player more so than Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook in Week 2.
Cook broke off 131 yards — 96 in the first half — on 22 carries (6.0 YPC) at State Farm Stadium. He picked up gains of 16, 15, 14 and 13 yards, bursting through holes to keep the chains moving in a 34-33 loss for the Vikings.
Ahead of a rematch on Sunday in Minneapolis, though, Arizona’s run defense has been more effective to start this season.
The Cardinals are second in the NFL in stuff percentage at 27% and rank No. 8 in defensive adjusted value over average (DVOA) against the run, according to Football Outsiders.
Younger defenders have stepped up to make plays, as Zach Allen leads the team with five tackles for loss and Zaven Collins has four.
Although, Arizona’s run defense hasn’t been quite as invincible, as running backs getting into the second level (5-10 yards past the line) have done damage against the Cardinals when they’ve broken through.
Cook is having a typical stout season when looking at his averages (4.8 YPC), but the Vikings are leaning on him less heavily. Under new head coach Kevin O’Connell, who came from the Sean McVay coaching tree, Minnesota runs the ball 36% of the time, down from 46% last year.
However, Cook has the ability to change the game on one touch, as he did against the Miami Dolphins in Week 6 when he ran for a game-sealing 53-yard touchdown.
“Dalvin is one of those guys, you can bottle him up for the entire game, and then the last one he goes for 70 yards and out runs everybody,” head coach Kliff Kingsbury said Wednesday. “So he’s been a really good back in this league for a long time. And with the weapons they have, I think Kevin’s done a great job of maximizing each guy in the system.”
Safety Budda Baker added: “It’s always going to be about stopping that run game. Dalvin Cook is one of my favorite backs that I’ve gone against, a guy who is really good in the run game, who can make one cut and hit the hole and next thing you know it’s a 65-yard touchdown.”
Dalvin Cook running through a couple of arm tackles and then immediately jukes Jevon Holland pic.twitter.com/Qfgi4VOQbC
— Ted Nguyen (@FB_FilmAnalysis) October 21, 2022
Minnesota has the second-most play-action passes thrown in the league this year despite already having its bye week, as the goal has been to get the ball in star receivers Justin Jefferson’s and Adam Thielen’s hands as often as possible.
O’Connell mentioned this week that he could feature the run game more on early downs to open up the explosive pass game, which he admitted has been lacking thus for the 5-1 squad.
Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph called O’Connell’s offense difficult to prepare for given how often it runs play-action from under center on early downs.
“That’s tough on a defense to hide the ball that much and throw passes,” Joseph said. “You’re hoping they hand it off more often from dot and pass from gun, but it’s not that way with this offense. I mean, it’s really 50-50, it’s really what you present as a defense.”
If this is the week the Vikings decide to lean more so on Cook and fellow running back Alexander Mattison, the Cardinals’ defense could be faced with a challenge it has not seen thus far going against a west coast offense with a star-caliber running back.
Some adversity the Arizona defensive line will face is the absence of nose tackle Rashard Lawrence after he was placed on injured reserve this week with a shoulder injury.
He’s been productive for the run defense this year with three tackles for loss.
“He’s a big part of our run defense and he’s been playing really well as a nose for us and that’s a big part of being a 3-4 defense, controlling the A gaps, especially with this run game that runs lateral,” Joseph said. “Losing him won’t help us … but next man up.”
Leki Fotu has lined up in the A gap more than any other healthy Cardinals lineman this season and could be a key component to Arizona’s success against Cook.
Sunday’s game kicks off at 10 a.m. Tune in on Arizona Sports 98.7, the Arizona Sports app or at ArizonaSports.com.